Sunday, December 23, 2007

Politics: if you're "fighting," you're doing it wrong.

Perhaps it's a sign of decreasing civility, an increased interest in popularism, or perhaps it's compensation for the fact that once in office, lobbyists and SIGs will really dictate the agenda, but the "fighting" metaphor has become widespread among all political parties.

I'm tired of political candidates who boast how much they're going to "fight" for me - are you? I appreciate the intent of the metaphor, but think that in general "fighting" candidates are showing that they will be wholly ineffective as a leader as their fighting demeanor will eliminate opportunities to advance via compromise. Pols who use the fighting metaphor just don't get it.

(I, and many Virginians may be ahead of the curve on being sick of the 'fighting' metaphor, as the most recent Senate campaign was won by the candidate with the slogan "Born Fighting.")

The truth is, good politics has very little to do with fighting. As indicated by the politicians with the greatest longevity, the best politicians on both sides of the aisle are persuaders and compromisers, not fighters. Think of Daniel Moynihan, John Warner, Newt Gingrich or Robert Byrd. These guys - while principled - are distinguished by their effectiveness, not their combativeness.

Leaving aside his political agenda for a moment, consider Newt Gingrich's leadership of the House, earned via the Contract With America. If change is the best measure of effectiveness, Newt and his party were the most effective group in Congress in my lifetime, and their route to power had less to do with "fighting" Clinton, and much more to do with selling a positive, specific agenda.

In contrast, I'd say that the "fighting" metaphor generally indicates a lack of new ideas on behalf of the candidate, and a critical lack of understanding of how things get done. I also think that "fighters" aren't constructive, positive, or likely effective. I may be taking this point a bit far, but whenever I hear that a candidate wants to fight for me, I have the additional reaction of wondering why the candidate thinks I am so helpless that I need my Senator or President to 'fight' for me. Simply put, if you're 'fighting," you're doing it wrong.

While all of this year's candidates are guilty of wearing out the fighting metaphor, the worst offender is John Edwards. In one article (linked above), Edwards or his p.r. person made 28 different fighting references, from being a candidate who will "fight and stand up to these corporate interests," to the fact that his his "fighting attitude would allow him to better take on health care interests than his competitors." He's also wrapping himself in the 'fight' metaphor in his online campaign videos

C'mon, John, drop the fighting metaphor, and instead promote a specific, positive agenda.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your Brazilian Soccer Player Name

Know how great Brazilian soccer players go by one name? (Pele, Ronaldinho, etc.) Well, visit this site to find out how your name would translate into Brazilian soccer.

Anybody got other silly but fun web-apps?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Asian sojourn highlights are up.....

Check out the highlights of my trip to Asia here.

Thru this link you can also find a few other photo galleries of mine thru the "My gallery tab" at the top of the Asian picture page, or here.

"I am not afraid"- viewing the terrorist threat in the right perspective

I think many people would agree that while the events of 9/11 were tragic, the resulting government expansion and expansion of powers represent overkill, inefficiency, a grab for power, and worse still, a sharp detour from the American way.

The DownsizeDC blog advocates an interesting campaign in response: "I am not afraid," a campaign to tell American leaders to stop being afraid, and stop acting out of fear.

To make the point, the campaign compares US loses to terror (~3,000) to US losses in motor vehicle accidents (~800,000 in the last 20 years), with a plea for proportionate response by the government.

(I don't buy this specific argument, as the possibility of terror losses far greater in just one event far outweighs likely traffic deaths in the future, but I think the point of telling Congress to get some perspective is very worthy.)

As DownsizeDC says, a more realistic response "does not require large armies, invasions, illegal spying, torture, detention camps, Kangaroo courts, or multi-billion dollar Congressional appropriations. Neither does it require us to shred the Bill of Rights or the Geneva Conventions. All it requires is a little backbone. And a little common sense."

I completely agree! Take a look at the post at DownsizeDC to learn more, and to pass this message along to your political leaders.

Thanks to Cato for pointing this out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Something to think about: Jefferson on religion

Thomas Jefferson: “I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. ”

Monday, November 26, 2007

1st Thanksgiving actually in Virginia, not Massachusetts?

It's true - the first Thanksgiving occurred at the Berkeley Plantation (VA) in 1619. I guess the Pilgrims just had a better PR person. (Oh, and it's a nicer story - no one was subsequently killed by Indians.)

Still, who knew that the first Thanksgiving in America predates the Pilgrims' arrival by two years?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bonus pic#4

Someone please tell me why someone built a 500m tall building in
backward-ass Kuala Lumpur.....

Bonus pic#3

Here's my host in Shanghai, my friend and former colleague, Robert
Huang. He's a great guy, which was my opinion even before our
adventures in Shanghai last week. (more on this to follow in my entry
titled "let's go get massages.")

Bonus pic#2: china deathtrap

I rode this little contraption between the bus from the airport to my hotel. I've never been so scared in my life. I rode in the back while my driver drove into oncoming traffic at full speed. Luckily, suicidal behavior on the roads (and sidewalks and medians) in Beijing is the norm, and I made it to my hotel safely,

Korean BBQ

This picture should have accompanied my earlier post on Korean food.

Bonus pics#1: Seoul at night that didn't warrant a post earlier.

Dining on the water in Singapore

Singapore is a fantastic city. If it were located off the coast of the
US, it would undoubtedly be one of the most popular cities in the US.

Some of the reasons are the mix of tropical weather, modern city
living, and lots of attractions. One of these attractions is Clarke
Quay, pictured below. It's a dining and entertainment area on the
Singapore River, where I just finished dinner at the Crazy Elephant
overlooking the river.

I'm headed to the airport in about 3 hours, to take the red eye to
Tokyo, and late tomorrow, a flight back to the US. (but first
hopefully a stop at the Paulaner brew pub for tasty German beer and
soft pretzels. (I hope it is still where I remember it.) yes I'm 8,000
miles from Germany, and the local beer, Tiger, is good, but Paulaner
is SSOOOO good I can't skip it.)

While I had a great trip, I can't wait to get back home and see family.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, no more

Making a quick side trip thru the capital of Malaysia, and there's so little to see that I'm moving up my flight out by 2hrs.

As a former British colony and former less-successful big-brother to Singapore, Malaysia pitches KL as an Islamic version of Singapore, but the result is a series of depreciating "national prestige" projects like the Petronas Towers (below) and "Cyberjaya," a new town carved out of the jungle and farmland to be Malaysia's magnet for IT companies. (and it ain't working - Cyberjaya is half-built and barely occupied.)

(another example of an Ill-concieved prestige project: Malaysia has paid big to host a tennis match between retired Pete Sampras and world#1 and unbeatable machine, Roger Federer, also 10 years junior to Sampras. Malaysia aims to attract world-class sporting events, but 1 hrs of Federer acing Sampras will only prove Malaysia is "dumb money.")

While once impressive, each of the national prestige buildings has been surpassed by efforts elsewhere, like China. So, if you're looking to see the 4th tallest radio tower, come to KL. Otherwise, spend an
extra day in China or elsewhere.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Moving fast....

Sitting here in the Shanghai airport, realizing following my last post, that I'll be averaging more than 225 miles per hour over the next 60 hours (until I arrive at my parents' home for thanksgiving). This doesn't count the ~260mph I experienced today on the ride to the airport on Shanghai's maglev train (magnetic levitation), seen below.

Next stop: Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Quintessential Shanghai

It's the Oriental Pearl Tower in Pudong - a forest of skyscrapers in Shanghai that basically didn't exist 20 years ago.

This town is booming. I heard this morning that the current 5-line
subway system is due to expand to 13 lines by 2012. Think about that for a second-the entire Washington DC metro is what, 5 lines that took 30 years to build?

Subway fares here btw are 3 yuan, or about 40 cents - 50% more than in Beijing.

Even with the subways here, traffic is a mess - both in terms of volume and pattern. You really do have to have your head on a swivel when walking the streets, or else you'll get thumped by a bicyclist, scooter, car, or bus. I guess the traffic here is a good metaphor for modern China - you'd better pay attention to China, no matter if you're a CEO, or just somebody walking the streets, or else you'll get thumped.

On the road again.....

Enjoying Shanghai while contemplating the next five days:
-Redeye flight from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) Saturday night
-Fly Kuala Lumpur to Singapore Sunday night.
-Redeye flight from Singapore to Tokyo Tuesday night.
-see a little bit of Japan Weednesday between my 7AM arrival and 4pm departure.
13 hour flight from Tokyo to Washington that takes off before it lands. (4pm Tokyo time, 2:30pm D.C.)

Total is something like 13,500 airline miles in 5 days! I think I need a new travel agent, or lesser ambitions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here's the official NON-endorsement of CogentPassion from China

Here's what shows when you try to access CogentPassion in China, courtesy of the BabelFish online translation service:

□the law □shows net □you to search □□front cannot use. The website possibly meets supports □□, or you need □to put in order you □□□to set.

today's menu.....

Here in Shanghai, I had lunch with good friend and former colleague Robert Huang. We ate traditional Shanghainese food, including Shanghai duck (very tasty, and not at all greasy) and roast cow's knee.

The cow's knee was tender and flavorful - like really good beef stew meat - which again - like the donkey meat - made me wonder how much of this I had eaten in the past under the label of "beef stew." After all, loads of cows are turned into steaks and hamburgers in the US, but what happens to the knee meat? You can't convince me now that it's just thrown away......

I'm banned by China!

Well, my blog is, at least.

Finally found my way to an internet cafe. (1st stop this trip), and tried to ake a look at this blog. Turns out, China doesn't like bloggers, as they (we) have a nasty habit of not follwing the Chinese Communist Party line. As a result, I got a nasty "you're not permitted to see this" message when I typed in the blog's address.

Also, before I could even get online here in Shanghai, I had to submit my passport, which was dutifully copied and noted by a 17 or 18 year old clerk who couldn't have cared less. Between the passport and the login ID, I'm sure that an investigator could determine exactly what web pages I accessed.So, anyone have any other banned or illicit websites that I can try to access? I'd like to make as much work as possible for the Chinese internal security goons.

Sad thing is, I had just come to the conclusion after 4 days on the ground in China that all of the security stuff wasn't present, and that in booming China, communism and the government was just a speed-bump on the way to riches. But, apparently old habits die hard. (But they surely do eventually die. Right USSR?)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Better view of today's Wall weather....

Great Wall, stinky weather......

Still worth the trip!
Weather was so bad that it was lightly snowing atop the Wall, but
still a great day. (and believe me-with the steepness of the Wall, it
was better to have snow than rain.)
I hired a car & guide for the day ($40 total) and saw the Wall, as
well as the Olympic Stadium (the "Bird's Nest"), and attended a tea
service. The Stadium viewing was scary - to see it, our driver stopped
in the breakdown lane of the highway, and invited me to get out to see
Next stop: Shanghai (I'm writing from the overnight train right now.)
can't wait for warmer climes.....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tonight's dinner: Hunan tofu and donkey!

I met up with friend, former colleague, and Beijing resident Le Sun
tonight to see his biotech company and have dinner.
He took me out to eat at a fine Hunan restaurant. (hunan is a
particularly spicy regional Chinese cuisine.) He gave me every chance
to steer the food order, but I basically said "surprise me." I was
happy when he didn't order the seaturtle, but that lasted only as long
as it took Le to say that he'd ordered donkey, along with a dish of
spiced Hunan tofu. Yes, donkey and tofu.
Both dishes were fantastic, and I'd order them again. Donkey tastes
like beef, so much so that I left wondering how much donkey I'd been
served without my knowing. (though I couldn't blame McDonalds if they
did, as the Big Mac jingle loses something "2 all-donkey parties......"
Can't wait to see what tomorrow holds......

On my way to heaven, apparently

Still in Beijing, I'm here before the Temple of Heaven, a huge complex
formerly used by the Emperor twice a year to pray for bumper crops,
and celebrate the winter solstice. While the Temple buildings are
neat, the real feature is the 360 degree view of the Beijing skyline.
Enough sightseeing for now - time to get a $10 Rolex at the Hong Qiao
market, where everybody knows enough English to say "Mister, you want

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ironic gift in Tian'an Men Square

Saw this in the gift shop @ Tian 'an Men square, home of Mao's mausoleum, and where pro-democracy protests occurred 20 years ago, before being crushed by the army..
It's a Philadelphia 76'ers hat. In case you didn't know, the 76ers basketball team is named in honor of the events of 1776.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Greetings from Beijing!

Hard to believe given present post-comunism realities, but Mao still
looms large over Beijing. (Not as large as LeBron James or Colonel
Sanders, who are EVERYWHERE, but that's another story.)
The Police loom large too - you can't turn a corner without seeing
one. Ironically, though repressive, the security services are still
customer-oriented, as my customs officer asked me to rate their
customer service on a scale of 1-4. US customs, take notice, or we'll
outsource your job to China!

Korean food

In one word: NUCLEAR!

Other words: tasty, plentiful, and underrated.
The Koreans have a unique approach to food. It's a very social activity- Koreans rarely eat alone and most dishes cater to this.

Most dishes, including breakfast, feature kim-chi, or pickled cabbage. It is the national dish, and incendiary, but tasty.

Kim-chi is usually served in an ashtray-sized dish, along with 4 or 5 other similar sized accompaniments, as in this photo.

The picture is the midway point of last night's BBQ dinner. In Korea, the BBQ takes place at your table(note the wire mesh over hot embers in the picture. The metal tube is an air fan that extends down from the ceiling to keep the air clean.)

The meat course is cooked by your server  in front of you while you work on the sides. You can see 7 sides in this picture. 5 more arrived soon after. I could identify 4 or 5 of these including kim-chi,, and sampled them all. Some were good, others too intense (the pickled garlic) or downright evil ( the green hockey pucks).

All told the t

Phone: 434-227-0718

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hello from North Korea!

Back in Seoul now, but today I went to the DMZ and the village of Pan
Mun Jom. The highlight was the visit to the DMZ, which was surreal. No
shooting today, thankfully, so i got to step into North Korea,
temporarily. (that's North Korea in the background, btw.)
In other Korea news, I'm a millionaire! With $1=900 Korean won, my
account balance was listed on my ATM receipt in the millions! (for the
math challenged, slightly more than $1100 makes you a millionaire in
Korean won.)
I've got about 48 hrs left in Korea, and I can't wait to see Seoul and
enjoy my millionaire status!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Taking off!

I'm happily at the gate here @ Dulles. Besides the facts that I just
missed the chance to upgrade to Business class, and the feature movie
is "hairspray," I'm excited to begin my trip to Asia. First stop, in
about 18 hours: Seoul, Korea!
(via Tokyo. Ugh-pass the Ambien!)

Beginning of 2 weeks of once-in-a-lifetime fun

Last night's Police concert in C'ville, from my 12th row seat. My
friend Chris said it best: one of the best concerts ever. The Police
have still got it!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More craziness.......

Certified nut Travis Pastrana went skydiving WITHOUT A PARACHUTE. It was part of a choreographed stunt, and it worked. Check out the link above to see more.

Also: somebody DROVE from NYC to LA in less than 32 hours.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

If you read only 1 article this week... (Legrain on immigration)

Courtesy of the Freakonomics blog is an insightful and broad appeal for open immigration by Philipe Legrain (link above).

It's hard to believe that a nation made great by open immigration now has such restrictive immigration policies - and the potential for even more restrictive policies. As Legrain outlines, though, these policies are in spite of overwhelming economic evidence in support of more open immigration here in the USA, and driven by irrational fear and xenophobia.

Thanks, Philippe, for outlining the benefits of more open immigration, and counterpoints to the typical arguments against easier immigration. (Amazingly, he does this without really relying on the practical argument about today's USA immigrants ("how you gonna send 20M people home?", nor does he really promote the macroeconomic need of the USA for immigrant labor.)

One conclusion that hit me after reading the Legrain article: instead of trying to justify more immigration, the conversation should be turned on it's hear, with the xenophobes compelled to justify why the current restrictive immigration policies make sense. I have a feeling that the xenophobic answer is limited to "Because!" and nothing more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Un-BEAR-ably good hike....

I went on a 10-mile hike up on Skyline Drive (Shenandoah National Park) this past Sunday and encountered 5 different bears over 4 hours of hiking.

The hike - a circuit thru Riprap Hollow and Wildcat Ridge (see link above for more info) was stimulating (if that's what you can call hiking 3 miles straight up!) and stunningly beautiful, as these pictures can attest.

The highlight of the hike was rounding a corner to find 3 young bears foraging and playing. I hid out of sight about 30 feet away for about 10 minutes watching them, then snapped a few pictures after one bear chased another up a tree directly over my spot.

More bear pictures can be found here.

(there was low light in the forest at the end of the day, so some of the pics have been enhanced to bring out the bear(s).


Unbelievable image from a Navy Blue Angels low-level flying demonstration. Watch for the cone of water vapor generated by near-speed of sound flight.

hat-tip to Gizmodo for pointing this out.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What this year's Nobel Peace Prize tells us..... that we're lacking great men and women leaders, and we're lacking significant progress politically, and as a species.

I don't mean to demean Al Gore or diminish his accomplishment (after all, I've been predicting it for months), but I'm concluding not just from this year's award, but the from the Peace Prize awards of most of the last decade, that we're either lacking greatness or progress as I listed above. (Or, perhaps the Nobel committee needs to re-read their charter, if I'm wrong about the lack of greatness and progress.)

The Nobel Peace Prize is given "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses". Yet, for most of the last decade (or more), the Nobel PP committee has selected winners that while noble, are hardly the responsible for dramatic improvements in world peace.

First, to illustrate, here's a few excellent Nobel PP recipients who were/are responsible for world peace: Hume and Trimble (1998, Northern Ireland), Mandela and de Klerk (1993, South Africa), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991, Myanmar), Tutu (1984, South Africa).

But recently, the Nobel PP has gone to issue-oriented winners who's impact is debatable, or, at best, prospective. To illustrate this, consider the last 7 winners:

2001: United Nations. Big bunch of windbags who don't actually generate or facilitate peace.
2002: Jimmy Carter. I could see a shared award for his efforts in producing the Camp David Accords, but the award was given for his decades of work to "advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." Blah.
2003: Iranian dissident Shirin Ebadi. Iran is nearly devoid of human rights, but I guess it could be worse without her.
2004: Kenyan enviromental activist Wangari Maathai, advocate of sustainable development.
2005: IAEA and chief Mohamed ElBaradei: ineffective speed bump on the road of nuclear proliferation. Toothless bureaucrats as shown in Iran and N. Korea. Would we be any worse off without them?
2006: Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunis. Great man, great idea, but a Nobel for a banker?
2007: Gore and a bunch of statistitians: spotlighting an issue (and not really directly responsible for creating change), but like Bjorn Lomborg says, should this issue even be a priority?

(this trend is echoed by Time Magazine's "Person of the Year." Recent selections have included "You," (2006) and "The American Soldier," (2003).)

OK, so the Nobel PP committee has lost its' way. But the real problem is that there's a lack of great people and great accomplishments to earn the award.

The last decade has seen armed conflict in spots like Darfur, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Iraq, Israel & Palestine, Afghanistan, and challenges to humanity like the Christmas tsunami, numerous earthquakes, and asian bird flu, just to name a few. There's also outstanding conflict in places like the former Yugoslavia, where the conflict is not hot, but US & EU troops there are really just insulation to postpone inevitable re-ignition of the ethnic conflict.

There will always be some form of conflict - my point here is that over the last decade, there's been a distinct lack of great people resolving these issues, or even people that can be identified as boldly spotlighting these (a la Gore and the environment). Can you name someone prominently addressing Darfur, other than a few Hollywood stars?

I would LOVE to see a Nobel PP given to someone for bringing peace to Darfur, or Palestine, but it's not happening at the moment. Is the problem that the issues are intractable, or that the personal commitment and apptitude is absent?

Probably a bit of both. There's been conflict in the Middle East for thousands of years, but I'd say that the religious divisions in Northern Ireland were just as stark, and that area is finally experiencing peace, so why can't ________ (insert name of area of conflict.)

As for the leadership side, looking at the American political scene, I don't see an environment that rewards anyone who takes a dramatic or even a long term position. I think this is mirrored at the UN. Both nationally and internationally, we're promoting sound-bite driven 'leaders' looking to 'surf' issues - to ride a wave attention without really getting wet by the issues. (And certainly striving to avoid 'wiping-out' on an issue thru the adoption of a dramatic position.)

(My archetype here is Bill Clinton, though this isn't exclusive to the Democrats.)

Consequently, there's nothing but temporary pursuit of really impactful issues by most leaders, and even more rarely progress. Gee, Africa is destitute and saddled with debt - it sure could use a heroic effort by a great man or woman. Tony Blair made a go at changing this, and GW Bush increased the supply of AIDS drugs, but once the news cycle shifted, the prospect for progress fell.

Perhaps I'm just wrong in seeking great leadership from prominent national and international leaders, and instead should spend more time appreciating great, impactful ground level people like Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Just to conclude: serious congratulations to Al Gore for winning this year's. I don't agree with his politics (in general) and I'm still not yet wholly convinced of his argument, but I really respect the fact that he has embraced an important issue and is spending his political capital in advancing it, rather than just monetizing his fame and connections thru a lucrative law partnership or similar positions. (Uhhhh....except his Directorship at Apple. How did he dodge that bullet?)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My new favorite African economist

Click on the link above to watch a dramatic* talk by Ghanian economist George Ayittey.

(* as dramatic as a talk on economics can be.)

Ayittey's view of Africa is enlightening.

While appreciative of Tony Blair's drive to generate $50B for Africa, Ayittey suggest that corruption has cost Africa $140B, and capital flight another $80B. In other words, Africa needs structural change to deliver more liberty to Africa, and not a hand-out. One of his suggested first steps is to cast out the "Swiss Bank Socialists" providing economic advice in favor of free markets.

He's quite blunt about what the problem is - a lack of leadership - and what the solution looks like. He says "Africa is poor because she is not free." It's a compelling talk on Africa - easily downloaded for podcast consumption - and it woke me up for other reasons: it's not often in my life that I'm exposed to a raw cry for liberty, and it refreshed my appreciation for what we take for granted here in America.

America can play an important role, and in fact, I'd bet that before long, we'll realize the libertarian and strategic value in boosting Africa.

For an example of the strategic opportunity, consider how much of the US trade deficit originates from China in exchange for simple goods that are competitive only due to the low labor cost. The economic impact of transferring some of this production to even-lower wage Africa would be huge.

What if, someday, African-sourced goods imported to the East Coast of the USA were just as economically viable as Chinese imports to the West Coast?

btw: I highly recommend all of the TED Talks podcasts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The carnage from rookie hazing week

Check out the link above to see the results of one of baseball's underheralded traditions: hazing the rookies by making them wear ridiculous outfits in public.

Typically, during the last game of a series, the rookies' regular clothes are taken from their locker and replaced with comical outfits. The rookies then wear the outfits from the stadium to their bus, signing autographs along the way, then to the airport, on the flight, and then to the team hotel in the new city, or beyond.

Here's Dice-K and Hideki Okajima as a Teletubby and a pirate, respectively.

Gore vs. Powell - becoming slightly more likely.....

Christopher Hitchens in the linked article shines a light on a notion that I've been predicting for a while: that Al Gore - after winning the Nobel Peace Prize - declares himself a candidate for President.

(I've been predicting this, as well as a "Draft Powell" movement from the Republicans.)

I think this would be justified, appropriate, and exciting. I think there's a great deal of discontent towards the early '08 candidates, and I don't think anyone has really fallen in love with any of the leading candidates (Clinton, and Rudy, as far as I can tell.)

Only a former VP with huge party connections and massive media recognition could competitively enter the Democratic race at this point, given the massive fund raising to date by Clinton.

Even without fertile, untapped fund-raising territory, it may be a strategic advantage to be a late comer to the race. Every candidate has aired out various economic and healthcare packages, which if not already, will be stale by the time that voters head to the primary polls. Gore would enter with the ability to criticize the existing plans and repeat his Iraq and global warming points ad nauseum, without really having to forward plans, especially ones involving a lockbox.

All this being said, I'm unlikely to vote for Gore, as I've been turned off by how he handled the 2000 election debacle. My impression is that he's waaaay too sore of a loser, as it wasn't the 500 or so vote difference in Florida certified by the Supreme Court that cost him the election - as he often laments - but rather his inability to carry his own state, and even his own congressional district, and his inability/unwillingness to cut a deal with Ralph Nader.

(With Nader earning ~90,000 votes in Florida in 2000, I think if Gore wants to identify who "cost" him the election, it's not the 9 Supremes, but rather Ralph Nader.)

Better luck this time, Al.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Prank that probably went too far....

Check the link above to see the 8th round of a long-running prank war. The prank-er (Amir) sets it up so that the prank'ee's (Streeter) girlfriend thinks she's been proposed to AT YANKEE STADIUM!

Streeter is likely respond with a 9th round of pranks, but I don't see how he can escalate this any further beyond having Amir arrested and sent to Guantanamo.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

3rd baseball team in NYC?

Having just read Andrew Zimbalist's book on baseball economics, I got to thinking about what we'll be seeing in the near future.

I think MLB will decide to expand in the next decade for a few reasons:

-with nearly every team in a new stadium, MLB will be looking for new spikes in revenue.

-realizing that MLB needs to compete more intensely with the NFL, NBA, and MLS, MLB will look to make a land grab to make sure that the MLB flag is planted in all of the major metropolitan markets.

-along the same lines of MLB realizing that raw interest in numbers is the best measure of health vis-a-vis the other sports leagues, total "fannies in seats" will become an increasingly important metric for both the owners and advertisers. Expansion could boost annual MLB attendance -currently in the 75M range - by another 4-6MM.

-MLB is also realizing how to take advantage of marquee marketing opportunities, like Daisuke Matsuzaka. Expanding by 2 teams would provide more marquee opportunities.

-with labor peace, the the next or the following MLB-player agreement will need a sweetner. Expanding by 2 teams would add another 50 jobs for the players union.

-adding 2 teams to the current 30 just makes sense. (2 leagues of 16, and probably 4 divisions of 4 in each league.) (I could see expansion beyond 32.)

-all of the traditional arguments about expansion (dilution of the talent pool) are becoming less relevant. It's been 10 years since the last expansion, and the addition of Asian players and an increased talent flow from Venezuela could easily provide enough talent.

And, as I'll explain in a moment, adding one team in the NYC area will provide roughly the same effect of extending revenue sharing.

So, expansion makes sense, and while MLB is famous for NOT doing things that make sense, they are changing that, as Zimbalist points out in his book.

I think that if baseball expands the 2 new teams will go to Portland, Oregon, and northern New Jersey.

Why North Jersey?

The New York MSA covers more than 18M people, while the median MLB city has 3.87M people. New York could probably handle 4 teams.

This surely hasn't escaped the notice of the other MLB owners. I think another driver of expansion will be the sentiments of the 28 other non-New York owners to bring the Mets and Yanks back to the pack, financially and competitively.

The amazing thing is, expanding to the New York area could theoretically happen without any interference from the Mets or Yankees, as a portion of Northern New Jersey lies outside of the teams' territories.

The Yankees' and Mets' territory includes New York City, plus Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York; Fairfield County south of I-84 and west of SR 58 in Connecticut; and Bergen, Hudson, Essex and Union Counties in New Jersey. This doesn't include Middlesex county, which while not particularly attractive in its' own right, IS adjacent to Staten Island and at the crossroads of several major roads.

In particular, I'd nominate this location in Woodbridge, NJ, which abuts the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, and lies less than 2 miles from Staten Island.

This location would represent a very different market than the existing New York teams, perhaps even a new market. It'll take a while for this idea to take hold, but it makes too much sense. The only complicating factor could be the desire of an exisiting owner to move to this location prior to expansion.

For more, read the article linked above.....

Friday, September 07, 2007

Steroids double standard?

Great point from Jayson Stark's most recent ESPN column:

"Suppose a prominent and popular All-Star player on a two-time World Series champion were to get suspended for a quarter of a season because he got nabbed obtaining HGH (human growth hormone, a performance enhancing drug) . And suppose, at the same time, a coach on one of last year's World Series teams was also suspended for the same offense. How gigantic would the headlines be on every front page in America? How scathing would the columns be from all your favorite writers?"

The above scenario has actually happened in the last 2 weeks - in football. (Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots, and Wade Wilson of the Dallas Cowboys.)

Where's the outrage? Why isn't the press working feverishly to figure out who Wilson was buying HGH for? Why is nobody asking "if a defensive back like Harrison is taking HGH, what do you think the bigger guys are doing?"

The whole Baseball ecosystem deserves loads of criticism for how they handled the steroids issue, (in fact, how they exploited it, if you tie the '90s fascination with HRs with tacit steroid approval by the leagues) and has gotten it's fair share of negative press, but why is football virtually untouched?

My 4 best guesses are:

1) football has many other more sensational off-field stories stealing the headlines, like Michael Vick's dog-fighting case.

2) football is considered by fans more entertainment than sport, and much like WWE fans not really caring that wrestlers take steroids to look the part, football fans in effect just don't care what wardrobe the actors wear.

3) fans aren't dumb, and already realize that the average NFL player is already a steroid-fueled freak of nature. (Geez, if an NFL kicker like Todd Sauerbrun took steroids, how about the 350 pound linemen freaks?

4) so much of the media has bought into football, that a foundation-jarring issue like rampant steroid use is soft-pedaled, in order to protect the media's investment in the NFL. (At present, ESPN, NBC, and FOX each have multi-billion dollar contracts to broadcast the NFL.)

Any careful examination of the trend in size and strength of NFL players clearly indicates rampant performance enhancing drug use, much like the rise of home runs in baseball in the 1990's illustrates the growth of steroid use. With the similar trends in usage of performance enhancing drugs, why the double standard in the press?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The coolest thing you'll see all week.....

It's an optical illusion, but this video, courtesy of Gizmodo, shows a helicopter flying without moving rotor blades. As Gizmodo explains, it just so happens that the rate of blade rotation syncs perfectly with the camera's frame rate, making it seem like the blades aren't rotating.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Moon mission motivation

Completely under-reported is the renewed and heavy interest by the US, China, Russia, and India in visiting, exploring, and eventually populating the Moon. All 4 of these countries have stated their intention to visit the moon and establish a presence by 2025 or earlier. (Russia says by 2015, the US a base by 2024.)

So why the interest in the Moon, besides nostalgia? As detailed in the link above, the interest is based on the Moon's abundant supply of helium-3, which could power fusion reactors.

(Never mind that today's fusion reactors consume 1000X more energy than they produce, or that the cost of production - when including the expense of the space exploration and transportation might be exorbitant.)

It's great that there's such broad and deep interest in exploring any remotely viable alternative energy source, as the lunar interest is validation that fusion could be such a source.

It would also be great if this generation of lunar efforts also drives interest in space exploration beyond what little we've done. (Mars, anyone?) On this point, it's very sad that neither the US, nor the world has accomplished much of note in space since the last lunar expedition 35 years ago.

Of course, this whole lunar fascination could just be a case of escalating competitive press releases, or better yet, a goofy competition for national pride, which in the past has begotten wacky things like the great jet train race.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Awesome prank

Slightly less serious than the "Bin Laden options" is this story of an awesome, awesome prank via Deadspin.

An OH high schooler distributed posters that when held up by the opposing team's fans just after halftime spelled "We Suck," as you can see on the video

The prank was pulled off perfectly - I'm pretty sure that none of the victims even knew of the prank, but sadly, the school chose to suspend the prankster. I guess they had to do SOMETHING, but given that the rivalry is institutional, and no one was hurt, why all the fuss?

WHOA! Bin Laden options indicate coming terrorism?

Unless some hedge fund making a "Hail Mary"-type investment, there's an indication in the futures market that someone or some group is making a huge bet on a serious short term movement in stock prices - as much as 25% - by the latter half of September.

As the linked article points out, these positions - theoretically synonymous with a terrorist group expecting to profit from an activity like 9/11 - have existed since June, indicating advanced planning.

The linked article from The is worth a read for another reason - I wasn't aware that someone took large put positions on UA and AA in advance of 9/11 (wow!).

In spite of the message implicit in these option positions, Homeland Security's terrorism threat level hasn't changed recently, which means either 1) the markets are better at indicating an iminent terror threat, or 2) DHS/FBI/CIA has already investigated the option holder, and are not concerned about any threat from related terrorists.

Let's hope it's just a crazy hedge fund looking for a huge, last-gasp return on their last few dollars......

UPDATE: rumor busted - nothing to fear here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Eagles: why do we care so much?

Great article detailing the scope and roots of the passion of Philadelphia Eagles fans. I can second some of the points in the article: during football season, the city's mood for an entire week is set by the Eagles' performance on the previous Sunday. It was very strange to see an entire city moving in slow-motion on a Monday following a loss. Luckily, I think there's been more wins than losses since I became of age.

The article could have taken a detour to detail the aggressiveness of Eagles fans, which some well-known football commentator who's name I can't remember once pointed out by saying that average section of fans at an Eagles game make the Oakland Raider's famed "Black Hole" look like a Sunday church service.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Recent travels

Following some business in NYC, I rented a car and zoomed around New Jersey for a weekend to see family and some old familiar places. Pictures, including my old home, are available thru the link above.

Pix were taken using my new iPhone, which is a very cool device, but does not really meet my needs, and will probably be returned soon.

It was great to see my uncle and his family, the Jersey Shore, and the Pine Barrens. It's kinda weird how the utter desolation of the Pine Barrens really resonates with me, probably because to me it represents home. (Not the desolation part, Mom!)

Seeing the Jersey Shore again really re-ignited my thoughts about getting some sort of beach house or lake house. This will have to wait until I decide to put down full-time roots in some exciting geography like DC.

Other simple highlights from the trip include reading the Sunday Philly Inquirer, revisiting my alma mater Shawnee High School in Medford, and sampling a few soft pretzels.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Map(s) o' baseball

Check out these 2 graphical representations of baseball fan geography, that is, what baseball team each part of the country roots for. Here's 2 representations:

One based on hard polling data, and

One more subjective

Both seem to suggest that the Atlanta Braves have the most territory (and perhaps highlighting the opportunity in Charlotte, N.C.

I'm also really surprised (in the first map) by how much of the Washington/Baltimore area expressed a preference for the Nationals. Only Baltimore proper and very northern Maryland prefer the Birds.

If you like this, be sure to spend some time at the Strange Maps website.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

New 1st thing in the morning link to take a look at

Wanna quickly and easily get abreast of the news? Try Newser, which will blow you away. Concise, accurate, viewer friendly, and much better than Google News.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Space photography

Space is cool and photography is fun. Most other combinations of two things that you like in life are brutally bad (chocolate + steak, anyone?), but space photography is better than each separately.

Check out the fantastic imagery recorded on the "Top 10 Spacewalks" page, and the "Gateway to Astronaut Photography" page.

One great time waster found on the Astronaut Photography page is the "Weekly Top 10," off of the 'Find Photos' menu, where I found this view of the Pacific, and a view of London at night (top).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Round-up of self help articles

6 Workout Hacks, Plus 8 Tips for Beginners

How to give yourself the best chance of a good life (Part 1)

Pearl of wisdom: "Most people get the essentials of life in the wrong order. They expect to feel good (or happy, or motivated) first; then, and only then, begin to tackle what they need to do."

50 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

60+ Improvements to Make To Your Life

39 Ways to Live, and Not Merely Exist

Pearls of wisdom:
"The proper function of man is to live - not to exist." -- Jack London
#33. Stop watching the news. It's depressing and useless.

Are You an American Zombie?

Have you become a zombie in your day-to-day life? If you’re not sure, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does your job fulfill you?
2. Do you understand and approve of the reasons you live your life the way you do?
3. Do you find yourself on a quest for more material things even after achieving a comfortable lifestyle?

Read the linked article for more.

Great advice from Charlie Munger

Warren Buffet's partner Charlie Munger drops just as much wisdom as Buffet. Joe Koster has accumulated many of Munger's pearls on his Value Investing blog (link above), but here's some of the best bits:

"You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here."

"I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak."

The article is also worthwhile for the Max Planck chauffeur story, which I won't reproduce here, but is in the linked article.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Very cool time-waster

Ever wonder how the US economy compares to the world? This great, great site graphically translates the economy of a given US state into it's global peer. (New Jersey's GDP roughly equals the GDP of Russia, Illinois=Mexico!)

(This, and other maps on this site are good for an hour-long distraction, so consider yourself forewarned.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Self-improvement articles

I'm a sucker for those "1,000 ways to improve your life" self-help articles, but not because I adopt the instructions en masse. Instead, I find these articles to be real useful ways to inject new approaches and ideas - they really help me think differently about everyday challenges - whether it's how to be more productive at work, or how to use vinegar to clean my dishwasher.

That being said, here's a few of the better articles from the last week or so.....

101 Ways to Cut Expenses

50 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

60+ Improvements to Make To Your Life

“The Irrelevance of the Middle East”

"the long-term importance of the Middle East is roughly proportionate to the share of the world population for which the region accounts–less than 5 percent. The time is long overdue for policymakers and analysts alike to put the many urgent issues that confront the people of the Middle East in the context of dramatic and unprecedented global transformations in process today"

This bit of sanity is from Philip Auerswald via CATO. We could really stand to hear this more often: the Middle East doesn't really matter.

Iran, Iraq, Islamic terrorism, Arab-Israeli tension, and energy politics & economics dominate the headlines everyday, but the reality is that a cold analytical view suggests that diplomatic, development, and economic focus should lie elsewhere.

A big driver for this conclusion is that despite our (oil importers) fear that oil producing states with malintentions could cripple our economies, the sellers are just as intertwined with our fates for economic reasons, irregardless of political considerations.

I'd also use a different approach to arrive at the same conclusion: America's ability to impact the Middle East is an incredibly small part of the answer for the Middle East. Despite best intentions over the last 50 years, it would be difficult to say that our impact is anything but a tiny fraction of the effort put forth. Whether it's the half-trillion dollars spent so far in Iraq, the Marines lost in Lebanon, or the countless fruitless Arab-Israeli peace talks initiated by the US, these efforts haven't shown a good return on effort.

America likes to pursue causes over and above practical economics. For example, we've always believed in the cause of "peace in the Middle East" (nevermind that there's no single definition for what that looks like), despite the high cost experienced to date.

It is appropriate then, to wonder, how would the situation in ___________ look if it had received a quarter of the US attention and effort over the last 50 years. (Try filling in the blank with South American countries first.)

In this scenario - where ___________ takes some of the US attention devoted to the Middle East, would the Middle East be any less stable?

Perhaps, in lieu of chasing causes, we should prioritize US effort on the basis of a measurable metric: "good results per unit of US effort (whether diplomatic, financial, etc.)"

(This approach is directly in line with Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus. Lomborg and his team has prioritized many of the popular social causes by their return on effort, and suggests development efforts concentrate on economic impact. As a result (and an example), Lomborg suggests de-prioritizing global warming, among others.))

Adopting this approach would lead to some surprising realignment in US diplomacy. I suspect that US diplomatic and aid efforts in South America and Africa would have an amazing return (what would the amount spent in one month of the Iraq war buy you in Africa?), and would rise in importance relative to ongoing Middle East initiatives.

In the end, when it comes to the Middle East, I fall back on a pearl of wisdom regarding the Middle East passed along to me many years ago: "If you can understand the Middle East conflicts, somebody explained it to you wrong."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Warning: new management buzzword on the horizon.....

It's "The Dip" (que the soundtrack by Freak Nasty), by Seth Godin.

I don't know what it is about all of the expedition allegory in management theory (think "Crossing the Chasm") but the early reviews indicate a lesson that I need to read up on.

Godin posits that there's a time and a place for quitting. Being one who usually goes until failing with certainty, I could sure use a framework that helps me make more intelligent cut-and-run decisions (and hopefully help me abandon the machismo that makes me avoid this.)

Interesting experiment....

The Washington Post recently recruited a world-class violinist to play at an entrance to a Metro (subway) station in order to see what would happen.

The end result from 45 minutes of playing: $32 in donations, and a handful of sporadic listeners, for a guy who normally gets $1,000 per minute to play his Stradivarias violin.

The lesson here is that we're far too locked into our daily routines, and should spend more time with our eyes (and ears) open.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This article encapsulates some of the reasons to buy Ebay, which I did recently at $31.

In addition to the Forbes logic, consider:

-Skype is looking like a money maker. My decision to buy coincided with reading that they're at something like $.01 in revenue per user. I see no reason why that figure can't grow. (I'm one of the $29.95 USA plan users, and expect many more to join.)

-Ebay has no strong rival in any of it's markets (online auctions, online payments, etc.)

-while critics say that online auction growth is decelerating, Ebay has adeptly bought add-ons to this core business (like StubHub) to keep the growth going.

-Ebay's economic model is still the best on the planet. As growth continues, margins INCREASE, as the marginal cost of hosting more auctions is basically a fraction of a server and connectivity - no new people, nor software costs, nor shipping costs.

-Along the same lines, you can think of Ebay as not being an auction-specialist, but rather a specialist in infinitely scalable, low marginal cost businesses.

-Ebay's management team, and especially CEO Meg Whitman, are now 'net veterans and I think, for having managed Ebay thru the good times and the bad, can now be acknowledged as the cream of the crop of internet business managers. (It won't surprise me if Ebay will (or has already) become to Internet business like P & G is to marketing- the place where great managers come from.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Beware Hollywood good intentions

Great story tee'd up by Marginal Revolution. Turns out that one recent celeb-driven charity campaign was actually more intent on promoting the celebs, than impacting those in need. The RED campaign against AIDS has apparently spent ~$100M in advertising to raise $18M.

This isn't entirely fair, as much of the advertising spend was really just reallocated to promote a tie to RED, but still, the results are suspect.

This isn't the first or last time charity has been leveraged to commercial advantage. I might be off on my numbers, but Miller Beer one time spent $500,000 promoting it's decision to give away $50,000 in scholarships.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Super interesting reading....

The link above leads to the story of a US academic arrested in the '60's in East Berlin on trumped up spying charges. He was held by the Stasi (the East German version of the KGB) for over a year, until ultimately traded with U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for a Soviet spy.

The writer just got access to the files that the Stasi kept on him and his interrogation, and the article above recounts his and the files' story.

I've attached a few pics taken while I toured the former Stasi headquarters and museum and East Berlin a year and a half ago. The Stasi museum is small and wholly in German, but interesting in equal parts disgust, dismay, and humor (there's a full display of "Get Smart"-type Stasi spy gadgets).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night." - William Blake

I'm always looking for self-improvement tips, and the article linked above relays the morning habits of 17 very successful people. As a result, I'll be getting up earlier.....


25 ways to extend use of Skype.

Fantastic site for personal and professional improvement: BNET.

Free Academic Podcast Lectures

Monday, January 22, 2007

Short, worthwhile political reads.....

Cato on Hillary Clinton's '08 candidacy announcement. She's a skilled politician to have made it this far, so I suspect that if her '92 healthcare machination didn't stop her then, they won't stop her now, though I wish they would.

Slow advance of the Nanny state
: As put forward here, "one of the reasons that liberty is always on the defensive is because people fail to notice the small ways in which it is being chipped away at, little by little, day by day, sometimes even for reasons that seem to make sense." Hard to believe that no one gives common sense tests to laws against spanking, smoking in your car with a child present, or dating a nurse at your doctor's office, as have all been proposed (and mentioned in the article.) This bring to mind Gandhi's great quote: "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes"

US active in Somalia?

There's a lot of similarities between the activity in Afghanistan that resulted in the fall of the Taliban, and the current activity in Somalia, where another Islamic fundamentalist regime is being disposed by (more or less) native fighters.

There's almost certainly US help in Somalia that is being unreported. This might be simple logistics or intelligence assistance, or, like in Afghanistan, US special forces military advisors on the ground.

To date, there's been no statement of activity coming from the US, and with the exception of the article linked in the title, no press reports. However, I'd guess that we (the US) is active there, but wonder why there's been no public reports or confirmations, as the presumably US-backed Ethiopians have recorded fast and dramatic success, which naturally would be good "keeping America safe from Islamist terror" press for the Bush team. The only explanations that I can come up with are:

1) the Bush adminstration doesn't want to be viewed as opening a 3rd war zone in addtion to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Or, so much attention is focused on Iraq that no one has the energy/attention to expand to Somalia.)
2) the US 'spooks' operating in Somalia have managed to keep operations largely quiet so far.
3) bi-partisan support has been built in the US to keep the debate centered on Iraq, with both Dems and Reps OK with pre-Taliban Afghanistan-type US assistance.
4) US activities in this part of the world are being kept quiet to minimize potential conflicts with the Chinese, who are apparently trying to gain influence in Eastern Africa.
5) Somalia is such a distant, bass-akwards place that the general public, nor major news agencies don't have the attention or manpower to cover this. (Or, if you're a real cynic, the news agenda is no longer really influenced by large, costly news bureaus, which have been shrunken by corporate cost-cutting at Disney, CBS, etc., and therefore covering events in eastern Africa aren't cost effective versus covering, say, the Jon Benet Ramsay case.

My guess is that the US is active in Somalia, and that we'll hear more about this in the coming days. I don't have a strong feeling about Somalia, but I think the US activity there could help in other parts of the world, as the "bad guys" realize that the quagmire in Iraq is not completely constraining the US foreign policy agenda.

(Speaking of US foreign policy + press, this past week's news from Iran (Ahmadinejad's nuclear stance being tempered - or even rebuked - by other Iranian leaders) indicates that US efforts may be working, at least slightly.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Whither iPhone?

Well, I was pretty wrong on the iPhone.....for now, as it's clearly marketed as a cell phone solution. I'm amazed, though, at how the mass media hasn't yet honed in on the iPhone's wi-fi capability. I don't know when it will happen - either an enterprising hacker will figure out how to put OS X apps on the phone, or Apple will lower their guard, or Apple will take bids from GOOG, Skype, and others to be the exclusive IP calling solution, but you can be sure that people will be using the iPhone for free/inexpensive calls over wifi internet.

All in all, the iPhone looks impressive, and will surely be a success, but I don't see it as revolutionary. As far as I can tell, there are no brand new functions - just evolutions of current functions. Visual voice mail is an evolution, and tv shows and movies on a cell phone are evolutions, but maps on a cell phone? click to call from a webpage? music on a cell phone? pictures on a cell phone? wifi on a cell phone? All of these are already available (though not all in one unit (yet), with the possible exception of the Nokia N95.)

(The auto-shifting screen (vert to horiz) might be revolutionary - anybody else ever have one of those?)

Surprisingly, while initially gushing, the press has started to point out some of the non-revolutionary-ness of the iPhone, like in the title link and these:

Does the iPhone sow seeds of Apple's downfall?

Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move

The real verdict on this Apple initiative will become apparent when we see what else Apple does with this market entry. Will the iPhone be one-size fits all or will 'Lite' versions of the iPhone be introduced to hit different price points and market segments? Will non-cellular versions of the iPhone be offered (either no-radio, or wifi-only?) Will iPhone-like functionality be integrated in laptops and desktops?

If Apple's past is any guide, the answers will be "no," and Apple will be a niche player in high-end smart-phones. Right now, Apple makes basically 3 flavors of desktop computers, and 2 barely-differentiated flavors of laptops (though 3 flavors of iPods isn't so bad). The Steve has frequently compared Apple to BMW- both make premium products in a commoditized market, and both very profitably survive with only 5% of the market. I don't see any reason why the iPhone will be any different, unless Steve has a new vision for the company that he's not divulging. (Yes, dropping "Computer" from the name represents the fact that Apple is broadening in terms of markets, but not necessarily changing their approach.

About a billion handsets were sold last year, and according to one article, only a million of them were smartphones. The iPhone market is really anybody with a phone and an iPod, so that million figure is low, but as great as the iPhone is, there's plenty of reasons for a user to NOT want to combine these features. (Would you rather go jogging with an iPhone or an iPod shuffle?) The iPhone sales goal is 10 million units in the first year, equating to ~5 billion dollars in revenue, which would be a HUGE success. Unlike the articles linked above, I think Apple can achieve that so this critique shouldn't be considered a criticism, but this techno-geek won't be in line for a 20th century iPhone (yes, I mean 20th), instead waiting for perhaps more innovation from v2.0 of the iPhone. (Or preferably, a video iPod with a 3.5", rotating screen.

btw: I WAS right about one thing: no iLife '07 until Leopard is released.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Some Guy Kawasaki advice that I want to remember

10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.

Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting—and venture capitalists are very normal. (The only difference between you and venture capitalist is that he is getting paid to gamble with someone else’s money). If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:

  1. Problem
  2. Your solution
  3. Business model
  4. Underlying magic/technology
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Competition
  7. Team
  8. Projections and milestones
  9. Status and timeline
  10. Summary and call to action

Friday, January 05, 2007

Overdue Saab trip wrap-up (Germany)

I ordered a new Saab car thru their European Delivery Program, whereby at a tremendous discount, I was able to pick-up the car in Sweden, and along with my friend Kevin, explore parts of Sweden and Germany, especially the autobahn. As you can see from this and previous posts, it was an amazing experience.

Previous episodes:
The Ultimate Souvenir: pick your car up in Europe
Ferry from Sweden to Germany
Greetings from Hannover
Hannover to Wurzburg

From Wurzburg, we made a day trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled city that hasn't changed much since the medieval period . It's existence today is based on tourism, so it is a bit of a tourist trap, but still memorable, especially via the Nightwatchman Tour - an hour tour of the city led by a person in the character of a watchman who guarded the city overnight. Also in Rothenburg, I enjoyed a schneeballen (local pastry in the shape of a softball) and Franconian wine.

The trip wrapped with a night in Schloss Colmberg (a castle hotel) and a frenetic trip up to Frankfurt to fly out. Bad traffic and imprecise Mapquest directions left me finishing the drop-off of the car at noon, while my flight was 1:20pm. I thought I had no chance to make it, but the efficiency of Lufthansa and the Frankfurt airport allowed me to make the flight with enough time to grab one last pretzel.

USAir managed to make my connection in Philadelphia back to Charlottesville a 22 hour endeavour (and for a while my car was beating me and my luggage home), but in spite of that, the trip was awesome. The car was (and is) excellent, the Saab experience was absolutely first class, and the touring was excellent, especially seeing the local Christmas festivities. I highly, highly recommend the car (Saab 9-3 convertible) and the European delivery experience even without the significant financial incentive. (The only negative was handing over my car for shipment!)

We put a total of 920 miles on the car over 5 days of driving, so you can imagine that the drives were enjoyable and the autobahn is FAST! I found out that my car is electronically limited to just above 135 miles per hour, as I tried to keep up with a VW Passat wagon doing at least 150.

I'm now 3 weeks and 2 days post-trip. Delivery is estimated at 5-7 weeks, and I can't wait. In the meantime, check out my car pictures here, and even more trip pictures here.

Quick hits

Candid thoughts from Oprah Winfrey on US inner city schools with good following points from Cato. This bring up 2 questions: 1) how could school choice possibly not be an improvement, and 2) who'd have thought I'd be mentioning Oprah here?

Marginal Revolution on college sports
. If it were up to me, I'd demand that the athletic department contribute to the university's general fund a percentage of revenues (20%?) prior to expenses. This would effectively serve as a "license" payment for use of the University name in the unofficial minor leagues. This might also serve as compensation for diluting the University's brand (imagine what, for example the Rhett Bomar debacle did for Oklahoma (stop laughing!)), and the fact that athletics probably siphons some donors from the university, as the donors pursue better seats in a stadium instead of a better endowed English department. (Though athletics probably make the whol fundraising pie bigger.)

I'd also agree that if the accounting of athletic departments is likely to show little to no profit - why would any AD ever return more profit than necessary, if the excess instead could be spent on better coaches, facilities, or the like, adding one more reason to why the Universities should take something off the top of the athletic department.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"What Jobs told me on the iPhone"

More fuel for the fire: Apple is "more interested in defining markets than trying to catch other companies that were busy trying to create a market for questionable products."

While this doesn't directly relate to the cell phone market ("questionable products?"), I think the essence is important: Apple wants to define markets - which it could do in the wifi-phone market - rather than follow in established markets (cell phones.)

Whether you agree or not, the linked Guardian article is well worth a read for insight into how Apple and Steve operate

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not a bad idea: chuck it all and move to an exotic metropolis

Ever been traveling in a 2nd or 3rd world country and realize that you could live like a king in that country for $20 a day? Ever also think about doing it permanently?

The article above tells this story, and really piqued my interest in following a similar path.

Whenever I think about leaving the 'Rat Race' I always run into the little problem of not having enough $$$, even with modest tastes. Instead, I and plenty others are most likely to forcefully plow ahead in our jobs and lives hoping against actuarial certainty, to retire in a condition to support a robust, youthful, adventurous life (as opposed to playing bingo down at the Seniors Center.)

I, and I suppose others, would even make some sort of sacrifice to experience the no or light working high life earlier. As portrayed in this article, the sacrifice is put simply: live a few thousand miles from home (and friends) and speak a foreign language, which doesn't seem so tough, but my initial reaction is that it's daunting.

A larger point unintentionally made by the article is just how day to day life keeps us from seeing other opportunities in greener fields. Prior to reading the article, I thought most folks' idea of a big change in life is a move from say NYC to LA, but in this day and age, there's really nothing keeping us from moving to Argentina or Thailand. So maybe I'll be posting from Varna or Montevideo soon.

(Personally, though, I couldn't imagine moving someplace where baseball isn't played.)

Apple wifiphone thoughts #2

Got some great comments on the idea of the wifi phone coming from Apple shortly. Here's a few more thoughts and points:

It really helps to not think that the "wifiphone" is a direct competitor to existing cell solutions, much the same way that you would have said a few years ago that an iPod isn't just a cassette-less Walkman. Sure, a cell phone and wifi phone facilitate talking (and iPods and Walkmen both facilitate listening to music), but getting a layer deeper reveals greater differences than commonalities.

A likely wifiphone from Apple probably wouldn't aim to provide SMS capabilities, or perhaps even web access (at least for the first year or so), much like the early iPods didn't play videos. Apple products tend to be initially born to do one thing spectacularly well, rather than what you see from many other efforts suffering from complexity issues, 'feature bloat,' and the like. (Credit here goes to the Apple marketing team. Only superlative marketers can say to engineers "stop right there - we don't need to add that feature." (Weak marketers say "sure, put it in, I guess that the extra feature will grow the market potential in excess of the cost of integrating the extra feature."))

I believe an Apple wifiphone would be identified not as a "go everywhere, communicate every way device" (as a cell phone is today) but rather "an iPod that can make calls when I'm in a wireless zone."

(Or, perhaps any of several other identifications "a phone for home usage (assuming a wifi house)," or "another way to keep in touch when I'm at Starbucks," etc.....) I think beyond these there's some cool potential uses (ultimately a streaming video player, etc.), but I can't see Apple (or anyone else) trying to do all of this from the start.

(But when you think about it, when you have a wireless enabled handheld video screen, speakers, keypad and microphone, what can't you ultimately do? For years there's been an assumption that phones would subsume PDA functions (=smartphones), but why can't PDAs subsume phone functions?

In other words, the Applephone would facilitate multimedia access thru wifi networks versus cellphones that primarily facilitate voice and some data access thru prorietary networks. There some commonality between the two, but more differences. Cell phones will provide more reliable voice access (for the next 5-10 years at least, given small issues with VOIP), but won't be able to provide broadband media for the next 5-10 years. (Verizon and Sprint might argue otherwise, but I highly doubt they'll reach 802.11N's 200M speed in the next 5-10 years.)

btw: in order to believe this, you have to ultimately believe a sea of high-bandwidth public* wifi will provide more and better access than any of the current cell carriers.

* I don't mean to suggest that these nodes be held by a public utility - perhaps wifi bandwidth will be so cheap and plentiful that we'll provide the nodes in an open source fashion. The irony here, is that this would enable Apple - which fundamentally believes in controlling the Mac computing environment - would be making a business of usurping the carriers controlled environment.

In other words, long term thinking by Apple believes that in the end wifi beats CDMA, GSM, and the like. This might be corroborated by Sprint's intent to build a nationwide wimax network.

(As a non-techie, I could be mixing networks or worse, mixing metaphors. Please point out inconsistencies, if you see them.)

Another reason for the Apple wifiphone is that this plays much more closely to Apple's experience and competencies. Apple knows wifi (hard to remember that Airport was early), knows consumer software design (see iTunes, etc.), and making something already possible much, much simpler.

In contrast, an Apple cellphone would lean much more heavily on hardware knowledge, systems integration, unfamiliar telephony protocols (GSM? CDMA?). I think it would also be a detour from Apple's mission to be the hub of a digital lifestyle, as other than syncing iTunes music (and perhaps contacts), there's no strong connection for a cell phone to Apple's core products.

Some objections to the iPhone that need to be examined are network access and business model. Specifically, who wants to run the network, and how - after interoperability fees - could anyone make money?

This is sort of like saying that the iTunes Music Store would never work without Apple owning an integrated broadband network, and that iPods would only make money for the record labels.

There's already broad non-Apple wifi access, from coffee shops to hotels, with increasing penetration nationwide. Add in the fact that 802.11N vs the current 'G' standard will multiply data thruput by 8X and wifi range by 67%, and we're going to reach the wifi network 'tipping point'.

As for the business model, the problem (or probably the opportunity) will be someone else's issue.

Finally, a couple of spare thoughts that make me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but like the Loch Ness monster, exist until disproved:

-Google Talk has been around a LONG time without it being loudly touted or otherwise connected. It's prime to be hooked to an iPhone. (Imagine if GOOG could simultaneously serve adds to a handset while facilitating P2P conversation?)

(Google Talk is built on an open standard, so Apple could just 'borrow' the standard without the need to tie up, but I think in this case Apple would be better off trading sole ownership of the upside for a wider net.)

-How come Skype offered free calls to US land and cell phone lines for half a year, ending January 1? This could be for other reasons, but could a large trial have been in the best interest of an EBay-Apple partnership? Along the same lines, why is Skype announcing a new pricing plan one week after MacWorld? Hmmm.....

-why is there such a paucity of Mac OS X cordless phones? Sure, Apple's <5% market share is the big reason, but could it be that Apple has already locked in the manufacturing capacity of the contract manufacturers who make the majority of cordless VOIP phones?

Maybe I'm making too much of the wifi opportunity - Apple could certainly introduce BOTH a cell phone (perhaps as a defensive manuever) and a wifi phone, and the wifiphone could be little more than an Apple-branded accessory

-another player of interest who has been relatively quiet recently: Intel. This partnership is expected to expose Intel to new markets by embedding Intel chips into more Apple devices. I wonder if Apple's new best buddies at Intel would like to provide Steve lower-power wireless chips and chipsets to increase demand for Intel's wimax chips?

Thanks everybody for your comments - please keep 'em coming, even if they're "Hey, you couldn't be more wrong."

(btw: the Loch Ness monster, or at least images thereof have been admitted to be a hoax.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's gonna be a wi-fiphone (Apple Wi-Fi iPhone)

There's loads of speculation about the upcoming MacWorld and new Apple product releases. Some of the better speculation is compiled here and here. (And don't miss the Cult of Mac article linked in the title.)

I'll chip in my $.02 on a few of the smaller things, but save the best and biggest for last. (Caveat: I'm not a techie, unless you consider biotech tech-y, just a Mac fan, as I'm the proud owner of a G5 iMac and 2 iPods (among other things)). Oh, and Steve, if you'd like me to remove any of these thoughts in advance of MWSF because they're too close to home, just give me a call (or Skype!))

iLife: I'm guessing this won't be updated until Leopard is released (late March?). Everyone seems locked on the MacWorld update schedule, but it's only happened twice, and there's no real reason why a January release does anything special. Won't iLife sell more if it fully leverages all of Leopard? This also makes sense if you believe that the iTV - probably released in late 1Q07 - also warrants updated iApps.

12" laptop: a must-do to trim out the product line. Aren't the lower-power and less hot chips a justification for the change to Intel? I can't imagine the engineering here is very expensive after already building 15"ers and previously offering a 12" versus the possible market returns.

iTV and others: the real story here is the progression to the 'N' wireless standard from 'G.' 'N' will enable better, high bandwidth, multiple streams, and appears fundamental to the iTV. 'N' gear is already showing up for sale (from Netgear and others) even though (I think) the standard hasn't yet been finalized. Still, Apple's adoption of 'N' at this stage is just like their adoption of 'G' (about 3 years ago?)

Robust reliable bandwidth will enable Mac to iTV broadcast, but also probably multiple rich streams of IP traffic, which begs the question: what could you do with more wireless bandwidth (and greater range)?

The immediate answer is: a wifi iPhone.

Apple has been rumored to be working on a mobile phone for years. I can't appreciate the technical challenges, but it seems that any Apple cell phone would face several abrupt strategic challenges:

-ferocious competition from big, established competition (Motorola, Nokia, etc.)

-market power (and control of the end-user) concentrated in the carriers (Cingular, etc.), each with entrenched business models.

-fairly well-established performance (i.e. regardless of how we're all still looking for the 'perfect' phone, you can easily and cheaply find one that satisfies 80% of your needs.)

-fairly tight margins in a fashion-like business.

For all of it's good graces, Apple has not been really great at deep partnerships with large entities (like carriers, or see also the Moto ROCKR). Apple is best when independent, so I can't see them tieing up with a single carrier, nor can I even see them tieing to one communications standard (CDMA or GSM in the US.) It's possible that Apple could innovate by making a phone dual standard (GSM + CDMA) which would be distinctive, or that Apple could go the MVNO route, but both are complex efforts prone to Apple fielding problems from other market players ("I'm not getting reception here - darn iPhone!") Each of these approaches also disintermediates Apple from the end consumer.

For years, the driver for creating an iPhone is to reduce the number of devices carried (and pre-empt cell phones from becoming the device of choice for mobile audio fans), but I think while a noble goal (and one that I'd enjoy), this doesn't seem too important to most. I'm pretty sure that condensing my iPod shuffle and Blackberry wouldn't change my life, like Apple likes to do.

And that's the crux of the issue, or more accurately, opportunity: one reason we love Apple is that among other values (such as design, simplicity, and integration), Apple is an innovator. Because of this, I just can't see Apple following into the cell phone market.

But, I can see a huge opportunity for Apple to innovate and reach a new, growing market: peer-to-peer internet telephony.

As of last April, Skype (the leader in PTP telephony, but by no means the only choice) broke the 100,000,000 user mark. I'm guessing that growth since then puts Skype plus Google Talk (and others) in a market addressing north of 150 million users.

(Please forgive me if this non-techie mixes varying 'net telephony standards - focus on the bigger issue.)

To date, there's a few decent attempts at providing phone hardware (i.e. non-plugged headsets), but you'll notice that there's only one available for Macs (which I ordered a few days ago - d'oh!)

There's also a few neat looking computer-independent wireless phones (Netgear, Linksys, and Belkin). I haven't had one in my hands yet, but they appear to be good first efforts, but something the team at Apple could really improve upon. This echoes the stage the MP3 player market was at when Apple jumped in with the iPod.

Big, new, growing market (think Apple would be happy to sell iPhones to 1% of the world market (=1.5M TODAY) and competitors to be leapfrogged. You've got all the ingredients for an Apple innovation, and that's not even including innovations such as Google city wifi access (only in SF right now, I think) and possible corporate connections between Apple & Google (remember Gooogle Talk?) or just up the road at eBay (owners of Skype).

So, I think the stage is set for an Apple wireless computer-independent net phone (let's continue to call it an iPhone for now). Apple could easily offer a superior product at an iPod like price point ($299?) that would transform how we communicate - and that's not even including possible connections to existing Apple assets. (In other words, even without music, the iPhone could be huge).

It boggles the mind, though, to think what an 'N' enabled iPhone could do today or in the future when combined with other Apple assets. With robust wireless bandwidth, why bother with storing much music on the phone? What if you could stream via your home iTunes hard drive? What if you could convert the phone (when not used as a phone) into a Front Row-type wireless media controller? What if - provided the screen is large enough - you could watch movies on your phone? How about an iSight enabled iPhone for PTP video conferencing?

(I'm drooling right now, so I have to take a short break.)

I don't know about the timing wrt an iPhone and iTV, but there's an amazing combination to be made here, all enhanced by the 'N' bandwidth.

I'll reiterate that I have no connection with Apple, nor any inside information, but I'd bet on the wifi-phone coming from Apple soon. The next question (besides "How can I get one?") is "how can I bet on this (or otherwise make money?)"

If you really believe in the wifiphone, T-Mobile looks good (T-Zones Wifi becomes even more valuable, and Starbucks probably becomes even more popular (well-established T-Zone spots)). Sprint becomes a good investment as they're looking to build a nationwide wifi network. Handset manufacturers like Motorola and Nokia don't look as good. Perhaps a PTP telephony partner (GOOG? eBAY?) gains thru a partnership, or perhaps even a VOIP company like Vonage. Also, don't forget infrastructure plays like Cisco or Juniper.

In short, hang in for a life-changing and VERY profitable innovation from Apple in 9 days (Jan 11). I can't wait!

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
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World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous